Sunday, 20 June 2010

All done and dusted

Here are some of Matthew's lovely images.


Here we go...

So, the big installation day finally arrived last week. Here we all are, with spirit levels and screwdrivers aplenty. You can see the table in it's sections before the whole thing was joined into it's seamless whole.
I am really pleased with the lovely 18th century blue I chose for the gallery walls, which really helped to set the context for the work, and to transform the space into a banqueting room.

And here I am adding the finishing touches - paper tapers for all the glass candlesticks.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

House work

I have been doing lots of hemming and lots of ironing in the last couple of days, finishing off the napkins. They are all sewn on old linen damasks, and I love the way that the damask patterns appear and disappear depending on the light. I have had two sets made - one with a grey ground and black stitching to sit on the table, and a second white set , stitched in silver grey which will hang in the gallery so that visitors can see the complete designs unfolded. Here are some of my favourites.


Alice Archer, who has embroidered them for me has done an amazing job!

I have also been working on the leaflet which will accompany the show, and will give a brief biography of my guests. Writing it all up, I have been really struck by quite how interconnected they all are - everyone has some direct link with at least one other person, and some of them, like Walpole and Pope link whole networks of characters.

Last Saturday there was a nice little article on me in the Guardian. It was about the studio, and weaving in particular, so not directly about this project, but there is a nice follow up slide show on the Guardian website at

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Greatest Plainess of Structure

St Mary's Church in Twickenham is just along the river from Orleans House. It was designed by John James - the original architect of Orleans House. Of course John James' part of Orleans House no longer stands. The only remaining part of the house - the Octagonal banqueting room - was added later to James Gibbs' design. So it is interesting to get a feel for John James's style and taste. There's a lovely lightness and elegance to the church - it exemplifies James' belief that

"The beautys of architecture may consist with the greatest plainess of structure"

Though the columns perhaps show a little more fancy...

The church boasts a number of very illustrious parishioners over its history. Amongst my guest list for 'Place Setting' are Alexander Pope, his nurse Mary Beach, and the actress Kitty Clive - a favourite of both Walpole and Garrick.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Delightful Ham

I was at Ham House the other day, doing some research into a few of the characters that have lived there over the centuries.

While I was looking around the housekeeper's rooms, I came across this beautiful little fireplace with the most charming tiles.

I also really love the legs which support the marble counter top in the dairy - oh what wit!
And not forgetting that Ham too has some beautiful plasterwork.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Structure and Strata

The table base for the piece is being constructed by Matt Cockrem. He has built a skeleton sub-structure, which he is now cladding in archive boxes. The overall effect reads like a random pile of boxes, tumbled and jumbled. There's something almost slate-like about all the different angles and facets.

Matt has played an integral part in the development of the piece, both as an amazingly skilled fabricator and maker, and also as a really valuable sounding-board for ideas. I feel very fortunate that he's working with me.

Here he is, building up the side of the table.

Over the weeks, I have been slowly collecting the cultery and glassware for the table top. I have built up a random collection of silver and cut and pressed glass - to match the random mix of my guests. Most of the pieces come from Deptford market - an extraordinary resource of flotsam and jetsam.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

work in progress

On Monday, Matthew Andrews, the museumaker photographer, came to shoot in the studio. I love the images he took - 'specially the details of the work in progress. Really sensitive, beautiful work. Here are some of my favourites.

This is the link to Matthew's website:

Friday, 16 April 2010

Punch Drunk

I have spent the last few weeks, punching and stitching the archive files for the table top. There are 48 boxes in total, and I have just finished the 42nd, so the end is finally in sight for this stage. It has been something of a Herculaean task!

Here are just a few of them laid out on my studio floor.

Before the boxes are stitched, each one needs to be punched with holes. The back of the punched lids are very pleasing, with a series of raised bumps and holes, a little like braille.

The next stage is to start on the place settings themselves. These will be set into the 'portholes' in the table top. Each setting will have it's own quilling motif, referencing the plasterwork and papier mache ceilings of Orleans House and Strawberry Hill.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Embroidered stories

One of the key elements on my table is a set of twenty-four embroidered damask napkins. Each guest will have their own nakpin, which will in some way reflect their lives and narratives.

The guest list spans four centuries from the grandest to the most humble circles. One of the places will be set for Mary Beach. She was Alexander Pope's nurse, and he commissioned a memorial stone for her in St Mary's Twickenham. The church was designed by John James, who was also the first architect of Orleans House. James built the main part of the house, with the octagonal banqueting room (the only remaining part), added later by James Gibbs. I like the way that Alex Pope's name features as large on the stone as Mary Beach's.

Another guest on my list is Mistress Elizabeth Mayo. She was the mistress of the hotel on Eel Pie Island in the 19th century and was renound for her pies. Local legend tells that she made eel pies for Henry VIII, but as he died several centuries earlier, we can take that claim with a large pinch of salt.

Eel Pie Island still has a whimsical if slightly faded charm about it.

Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to have a chance to look at the extensive collection of woven linen damasks at the V&A. There are some wonderful examples of narrative designs from the 17th and 18th centuries. Hunting and battle scenes, views of London, and even a wonderful trompe l'oeil tablecloth with an extraordinary surreal woven banquet complete with wine goblets, plates, cutlery and even some very fine lobsters.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Ruffs, Cuffs and Collars

As part of the remit of the museumaker programme, all the projects include elements of community participation. One of these for 'Place Setting' has been a series of workshops with children from Ham.

Ham House is the oldest of the trio of houses referenced in 'Place Setting', and was built in 1610. The third owner, William Murray, lived there from 1626 to 1655. He was the 'whipping boy' for Charles 1, and formed a close friendship with the future king.

Our workshops were focused around the theme of Elizabethan and Stuart ruffs and collars, drawing inspiration from 16th and 17th century portraits. Over the course of the workshops we created a series of ruffs, which are featured in our own portrait gallery, inspired by the long gallery at Ham.
Here are two of our star portraits.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

An invitation to dinner

As you might guess from the title, 'Place Setting' is essentially a project about dining. The theme is particularly apt, as the only original remaining fragments of Orleans House are the stables and the beautiful 18th century octagonal dining room, which now adjoins the 1960's gallery space. All the rest of the house was pulled down in the 1920's by a balast merchant, who bought the site with an eye on the gravel pits underneath it! Demolition was already under way, when the banqueting room - thankfully situated at the far end of the site from the wrecking balls - was bought in the nick of time by Nellie Ionides, a wealthy neighbour. She used to host her own dinner parties in the banqueting room, with all the food processed from her kitchen in the neighbouring house.

In 'Place Setting', a six metre dining table runs down the length of the gallery. The table is set for a guest list spanning four centuries along the banks of the Thames. Arisocrats and architects are seated alongside cooks and nursemaids. Place settings are cut into the stitched damask table top, with plates worked in quilling to reflect the ceilings above. I found the beautiful images above on the internet whilst planning the pitch for the commission.

As part of the project, I have been running a series of workshops with my friend Keirion. This is one of the kids in the kitchen at Ham House. Dissapointingly the pastry is salt dough, filled with uncooked black-eyed beans!

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Over the last couple of weeks, I have been looking at damask patterns to work into the piece. At Strawberry Hill, Walpole's original crimson glazed worsted damask is being re-woven for the restoration, and will be hung as pannelling on the walls of the long gallery.

Although this wallpaper in the 'blue bedchamber' is actually from the late 19th century, and not at all authentic to the house, I really like the deep gloomy colours and the gold highlights. It will of course all be stripped away in the restoration.

The ceiling in the blue bedchamber still has the original guilding from Walpole's time - it's a beautiful deep red-gold, and a very lovely simple repeat pattern. There's something of a feel of bamboo trellis about it I think. Although it had a grand bed in it, the room was not really used as a bedroom - more of a show room. The working bedrooms were all on the floor above.

This is the pattern I have designed for my piece. It is based on a number of different damasks, and has been simplified so that the pattern shows up even when stitched at quite a big scale.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Hidden Stories

Historic archives are a central theme in 'Place Setting'. I want to explore the idea of hidden narratives, and forgotten stories.

I have been looking at archive imagery. I'm fascinated by the way that the outside of the archive files are so regular and anonymous, whilst inside are perhaps hidden tails of dramas, scandals and, perhaps most interesting, the minute detail of day to day lives over the centuries.

For 'Place Setting', I am going to be working onto and into this theme quite literally, cutting and stitching into my own archive of historic narratives. At the moment I have a huge wall of archive files towering over the studio. It's very exciting to begin to anticipate the scope and scale of the final installation.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


One of the most extraordinary things about both Orleans House and Strawberry Hill are the exquisite ceilings. In Orleans House the ceiling of the beautiful octagonal banqueting room, designed by James Gibbs in the early 18th century, is worked in plaster. The craftsmanship was so fine that Gibbs had to employ Swiss stuccatori Guiseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti as there were no local plasterers up to the job.

The later 18th century ceiling of the long gallery at Strawberry Hill is worked in papier mache. It was modelled on the ceiling of Henry VII's chapel at Westminster Abbey, and is a gloroius confection in cream and gold. The other-worldliness of the detail was even more pronounced for me as I was lucky enough to visit the house during its restoration. From under the shadows of the scaffolding, tip-toeing along the bare joists, with the rain pouring outside, the work took on an altogether ethereal quality.

I have been doing some research into table settings and banqueting customs in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Stuart period there was an extraordinary vogue for sugarwork or pastillage. Huge elaborate sculptures and vignettes were created as centrepieces for banquets, demonstrating the wealth of the household at a time when sugar was an extremely valuable commodity.
The food historian Ivan Day has re-created several of these pastillage sculptures, working the sugar in the minutest detail. These are some of the images form his website

The combination of sugarwork, plasterwork and papier mache has got me thinking about paper quilling. It's a very simple technique and gives the most ornate curls and swirls. I have been playing around with it in the studio for a day or two, making up different shapes and patterns.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A Tiny Bit of Background

This is the blog for 'Place Setting' - a new installation project which I am just embarking on. It is part of Museumaker, a national partnership between makers, museums and visitors involving sixteen museums across the country. The work will be located at Orleans House in Twickenham, with the scope of the project extending to a number of other neighbouring grand riverside houses, including Ham House and Strawberry Hill. More on all of these to follow.

My own background is in textiles. I am a weaver, and work across a range of weave and stitch techniques. There is much more information about my work on my website at

I hope you enjoy the ride!